This is an excerpt from a column published on Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in its entirety here.
Let’s start with the positive.
The Razorbacks earned their first winning SEC season since 2008...A big part of the reason Arkansas kept winning at home throughout February is that the team didn’t hit a wall and collapse like previous years...Arkansas Razorback basketball was involved in possibly-real NCAA Tournament bubble discussion up through the second Missouri game...There was obvious improvement from many players throughout the year, particularly among some of the newcomers...Some of the returning players improved as well.
But all that being said, this team should have been in the NCAA Tournament.
I don’t believe this team wasn’t talented enough. I don’t believe this team was too young. I believe this team blew far too many opportunities to beat bad teams on the road to be taken seriously on a national level.
Don’t tell me Arkansas didn’t have the talent or experience to beat South Carolina in Columbia, Texas A&M in College Station, LSU in Baton Rouge, or Vanderbilt in Nashville (twice). They may not have been ready to beat Michigan, Florida, or Missouri away from home, but they could have beaten those other teams if the Hogs hadn’t come out flat and rallied too late, or failed to show up at all. They had a 15-3 lead against South Carolina, but lost the final 35 minutes by a score of 72 to 39. They allowed LSU to build a 22 point lead in the first half before not quite coming all the way back in the final minutes.
Arkansas may not have been talented enough to be considered a contender for an SEC Championship or a top NCAA seed, but they were talented enough to make a tournament. And in college basketball, there’s really not such a thing anymore as being "too young" in major conferences. Of the eight players named to the All-SEC first team, only two were seniors. Of the 17 players on the first and second team, 10 were juniors or sophomores. The six Razorbacks who played the most minutes this season were all juniors or sophomores.
The Razorbacks made progress this season in many ways, and that’s terrific. But it’s possible to make progress while still failing to live up to potential, and it feels like that’s what happened this year. Stan Heath made progress each year until Ronnie Brewer departed for the NBA, but he ultimately lost games people believed he should have won and that was his downfall.
We won’t have to wait long to see if the team can turn things around away from Bud Walton next season, as Arkansas will travel to Hawaii to participate in the Maui Invitational in November. They’ll get to play three games there and winning just one of them should ease at least some concerns going into the year. But lose all three, and there will certainly be tons of empty seats in Bud Walton next season, each one serving as a haunting reminder of what used to be.